The number of the UK's poor and destitute receiving emergency food aid has almost doubled in the past six months, the country's largest organiser of food banks has reported.
Figures from the Trussell Trust, which operates 172 food banks and has a further 91 banks under development nationwide, show that from April to September nearly 110,000 adults and children were referred for emergency help by professionals such as the police, social workers and job centre advisers and GPs.
The trust, which operates a controlled voucher scheme to track referrals, said that in the whole of the last financial year they fed 128,000 people. Based on demand over the last six months, they expect that number to rise to more than 200,000 between 2012-13.
In the trust's south-west region, one in 120 children have been fed with food packages during the last six months, while in Wales the current figure stands at one in 130.
A breakdown of the figures also shows that while less than one percent of those being referred are pensioners, there appeared to be a prevalence of young teenagers and adults taking up emergency food aid.
In the latest set of figures, 14,500 people, 16% of all those being referred, were aged 16-24, a group that makes up around 11% of the UK population in total.
The trust's executive chairman, Chris Mould, said that while they weren't reaching as many old people as they should be, travel and rent increases and the dire state of the youth employment market had left many of the UK's young adults in a desperate state with little financial resilience.
"When you've got people who are on the margin of just making it and there's another price rise, another change in their outgoings, they can't negotiate [the change]... something gives, and it is going to be the food."
The trust's own indicators show that the largest block of people were being left unable to feed themselves because of delays or a change in circumstances to their benefit claims.
Currently 45% of professionals referring families and adults for food packages cited troubles and delays with the benefits system, a figure that was up from around 40% on the year before and had more than doubled since the recession began in 2009.
Mould said the rise was "significant". "In the first half of this year that's another six or seven thousand people who are being helped at food banks because of problems relating to the timely availability of benefits," he said.
Mould said that other reasons for hunger included debt and delayed wages; circumstances arising out of domestic violence and sickness, but that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who are responsible for the benefits system needed to ask why so many people were being left hungry by bureaucratic failure; increased use of benefit sanctions; and the government's reform measures, which could require benefit claimants to switch to different types of benefits.
"The period in which people are left with no recourse to money and therefore an inability to get food on the table is longer," Mould said.
"The DWP should be deeply interested in what's driving and generating these crises. They really should be asking the question, is there anything we can do to resolve this and to reduce the prevalence, the occasions per month when this happens."
In response to the figures, a DWP spokesperson cited the fact that 80% of benefit claims were turned around in 16 days and said that reforms were making the welfare system more effective. "We recognise the welfare system we inherited is broken, trapping on benefits the very people it was designed to help. Our reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in society by making work pay and lifting thousands out of poverty," a department spokesperson said.
"Jobcentre plus processes thousands of benefit payments each day and we also pay crisis loans to help people who have emergency costs or benefit delays. Where appropriate we also refer people to the Trussell Trust following their request for us to do so," they added.
Shiv Malik and John Burn-Murdoch, The Guardian